May 14/Medical Letter on the CDC & FDA -- Brown rice, a 100% whole grain food, joins the recognized ranks of healthful whole grains, according to an announcement this week from the FDA that will allow brown rice food labels to bear the whole grain health claim. This will enable consumers to easily identify brown rice as a food to help them increase whole grain consumption and reduce their risk of heart disease and certain cancers .

Brown rice and other whole grain foods are widely recommended to consumers by the public health community including the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and the "2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans" for their protective effects against heart disease and certain cancers. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines recommend "making half of all grain servings whole," or three daily whole grain servings in a standard 2,000-calorie reference diet. Still, data from a recent consumer survey conducted by Eating Well magazine and the USA Rice Federation show that the majority of Americans (65%) are not meeting their whole grains quota.

Consumers can now be on the lookout for brown rice labeled with the FDA whole grain health claim: "Diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers."

FDA's action explicitly extends an existing health claim to include whole grain rice. For the first time, FDA states that all single-ingredient whole grain foods qualify for the claim regardless of whether they meet the requirement for a minimum level of dietary fiber, as long as they meet the other general health claim requirements. The dietary fiber requirement was established in 1999 to monitor compliance with the claim. FDA now states that compliance for single-ingredient whole grain foods will be monitored by examining package ingredient statements, not through fiber content. The science on which the health claim is based clearly acknowledges that the health benefits of whole grains are independent of their fiber content.

From a public health perspective, this news means that now there is one more option for the nearly 90% of Americans who know that whole grains should be part of a healthy diet and the 70% who say they would be likely to increase whole grain consumption if the benefits were clearly listed on the package.

"Rice is the most popular grain around the world, which makes brown rice a great choice for increasing whole grain intake," says Joann Slavin, PhD, RD, whole grains expert and Professor of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota. "In the U.S., where chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancers are common, encouraging whole grain brown rice consumption could have a significant public health impact."

One hundred percent whole grain brown rice is an economical, nutritious and versatile food. With only the inedible hull removed, brown rice contains beneficial phytonutrients including antioxidants, anthocyanins, phytosterols, tocopherols oryzanol and many other potentially protective substances that have been found to help reduce the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, type II diabetes and potentially aid in weight maintenance. Brown rice also contains 15 vitamins and minerals, including B-vitamins, potassium, magnesium, selenium, iron, and 2g of fiber per one half cup of cooked rice.

From the May 27, 2008, Prepared Foods e-Flash